Iris Garden Service has been contributing to the beauty of the Rim country for more than a quarter century.
Iris Buckpitt Shaw and her first husband, George Buckpitt, came to Payson in 1978 from Tempe. Their plan was to retire, but changing circumstances and ill health made it necessary to carry on.
So, now at 81, Iris, continues to use her skills to keep the Rim country beautiful. She is helped in her business by her second husband, Tom Shaw, and a small crew of men.
"I've been in love with flowers forever," Iris said. And she started gardening when she was only six years old.
"It was around Mother's Day and I saw a bunch of beautiful irises in front of this house and started to pick them," she said. "The lady came out and said I could have as many as I wanted, whenever I wanted, if I knocked on the door and asked first. Later she gave me a bunch of bulbs to plant for myself." And so began her gardening efforts.
She recalls another time -- she was about 8 -- when she decided it was time to start gardening. Since the ground was still frozen, she had to take a pick axe to break it up, but the neighbors followed her lead and started their gardens too.
Originally from Mount Vernon, N.Y., she lived and farmed in the San Joaquin Valley of California before moving to Arizona. She came to the Phoenix area in 1963.
She was going to Glendale Community College, taking art classes, when a friend in the class, Annie Borton, asked if she could help her with her yard.
She said Borton was so thrilled with the work, she urged Iris to go into the gardening and landscaping business.
Around the same time, her husband, George's boss, asked them to landscape an apartment complex to draw renters.
The couple's business grew from those two projects, soon they were doing rock gardens all over the Phoenix area and a real estate office hired them to take care of the yard work at all its listings to help move the property.
"That became a $6,000 a year contract," Iris said of the real estate project.
The business soon became a family project, with Iris' daughter-in-law taking care of the phone calls. Most of the family is now involved in similar or related businesses. Iris' son, Charlie, has C&J Landscaping here in Payson and her two of her daughters' families have related businesses, but they are located in the Phoenix area. Her daughters are Didi Duncan, Marcia Zamoyski and Norma Hanks.
Iris Garden Service provides a variety of tasks including yard work, clean-up, planting and on-going maintenance.
She has encountered a few challenges over the years doing business in the Rim country.
"We have had to build low retaining walls to control erosion during rainy years," she said. "There are different changes in climate and so many different soil conditions. The soil is acidic in some places and you have clay in others. You have to do a lot of work to change the soil to make it fertile.
"It's very difficult to put in a lawn and have it take," she said, "You needs the winds for pollination, but they also dry the soil.
"The one big challenge is being a woman in a macho business. There is a real difference in gardening between men and women."
Iris said she has always been up for challenges though, it wasn't so long ago that she was lifting 10 tons of granite a day -- and she was in her 60s and early 70s.
Iris was widowed and remarried in 1999. When she isn't running her business, she enjoys rock hunting and jewelry making. She has studied art and even sold a painting of the Skousen Ranch barn to the people who owned the place.
She said she and George came to Payson because to them it was like paradise. They had been visiting the area since first coming to Arizona in 1963, so when they decided to retire, there was no other place they wanted to be.
"Everything we wanted was in Payson. It still is. It's the ultimate."
Iris Garden Service can be contacted between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, 928-474-5932.